The sweaty fountain of youth

The first time I was ... without work was in the spring of 1989. I was working for a chain of business newspapers, the chain changed ownership, the new owners misinterpreted a column I wrote, I was on hiatus. I did one smart thing during the ensuing three months of R&R: I kept my Y membership. And I did one stupid thing: I failed to replace my oversized road bike.

The Y membership helped me cling to sanity. I swam every other day and got up to 3,000 yards a workout. If nothing else, the time away from my idle answering machine was invaluable. My heart rate spiked not in the pool, but upon driving home in anticipation of seeing the flashing red light — suggesting that a potential employer had called — on my machine.

It was on those off days that I could have used the bike. I realized it at the time but was too cheap to spring the $500 for a decent road bike. I realized it even more after reading the first few pages of “Younger Next Year: Live Strong, Fit, and Sexy — Until You’re 80 and Beyond,” by Chris Crowley and Dr. Henry S. Lodge. The premise of their book: Nothing short of an hour of rigorous exercise a day will do if you want to enjoy life into your 80s and beyond, not simply endure it. By skipping every other day, by scrimping on the bike, I was working myself toward an early grave. (OK, a bit of an exaggeration.)

The duo’s premise is this: We don’t age, we decay. “ ... in our forties and fifties,” writes Lodge, the book’s medical voice, “our bodies switch into a ‘default to decay’ mode, and the free ride of youth is over. ... What we can do, with surprising ease, is override those default signals, swim against the tide and change decay back into growth.” The key to making this happen: exercise, at least an hour a day, vigorously. And this isn’t some newfangled theory, says Lodge. It’s based on billions of years of evolving from primordial slime.

The book’s title should serve as warning to health seekers hooked on the new-you-in-four-weeks “health” philosophy touted by grocery checkout tabloids and TV infomercials. You won’t notice that you’re reversing the aging process immediately, say the two. In a year, though, you will. Keep it up, promise the authors, and you’ll be able to live a vigorous life “deep into your 80s,” possibly longer.

(I heard about the book last week from Joe Lugiano. Joe runs ultra-distance (100 miles) races; Chronologically, he’s 66 years old. Physically and mentally, he’s in his mid-40s. The book rang true with him and after 75 pages it rings true with me. I’m 53 and can outperform — in several respects — the high school athlete me.)

The book is told from two perspectives. One is Lodge’s, who provides the medical backing for why exercising at least an hour a day works. The other perspective comes from Chris Crowley, who backed into a rigorous life of exercise when he suddenly realized he was getting old. Crowley tends to be gabby and repetitive, but his perspective is invaluable because he’s living proof, for those who need it, that sweat is critical to a long, active life. (Among other things, he’s an avid skier in his 70s and does a daily spin class.) Lodge gives the science without getting too scientific. Early on, he makes a critical observation about why this common sense notion comes to most as a revelation. The observation was based on his medical practice and his bafflement over why many of his older patients were in declining health:

“I had done what doctors do well in this country, which is to treat people when they come in with a disease. My patients had had good medical care but not, I began to think, great health care. ... Modern medicine does not concern itself with lifestyle problems. Doctors don’t treat them, medical schools don’t teach them and insurers don’t pay to solve them.”

What Lodge came to realize was that so many of the illnesses associated with “aging” were easily preventable. There was a fountain of youth, he found, a fountain flowing with sweat.

Tomorrow: Priming the fountain.


Jeff P said...

This is interesting data. I can see aging baby boomers buying into this recommendation. The challenge is making it happen, everyday. I am currently at about an hour per session about 3 times a week--if I am lucky. However, seeing my parents age prematurely is a motivation to kick it up a notch. But, does one really need to spend $500 for a decent road bike? Most of my biking is stationary (spin classes), but I am considering moving to the open road--maybe even sign up for Cycle Oregon in 2010 (www.cycleoregon.com).
Thanks for this post.

Marcy said...

Only $500?

Joe Miller said...

A most curious exchange ...

Jeff P said...

I think I'll stick to the spin class. I hear Cycle Oregon can use a few volunteers.